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Chemistry LibreTexts

Unit 5: Nuclear Chemistry

  • Page ID
    13189
  • Nuclear reactions differ from other chemical processes in one critical way: in a nuclear reaction, the identities of the elements change. In addition, nuclear reactions are often accompanied by the release of enormous amounts of energy, as much as a billion times more than the energy released by chemical reactions. Moreover, the yields and rates of a nuclear reaction are generally unaffected by changes in temperature, pressure, or the presence of a catalyst.

    • 5.1: Components of the Nucleus
      Subatomic particles of the nucleus (protons and neutrons) are called nucleons. A nuclide is an atom with a particular number of protons and neutrons. An unstable nucleus that decays spontaneously is radioactive, and its emissions are collectively called radioactivity. Isotopes that emit radiation are called radioisotopes. Each nucleon is attracted to other nucleons by the strong nuclear force.
    • 5.2: Nuclear Reactions
      Protons and neutrons are called nucleons and a nuclide is an atom with a specific number nucleons. Unstable nuclei decay spontaneously are radioactive and its emissions are called radioactivity. Nuclei are bound by the strong nuclear force. Stable nuclei generally have even numbers of protons and neutrons with a ratio of at least 1. Nuclei that contain magic numbers of protons and neutrons are often especially stable including superheavy elements, with atomic numbers near 126.
    • 5.3: Nuclear Radiation
      Nuclei can undergo reactions that change their number of protons, number of neutrons, or energy state. Many different particles can be involved and the most common are protons, neutrons, positrons, alpha (α) particles, beta (β) particles (high-energy electrons), and gamma (γ) rays (which compose high-energy electromagnetic radiation). As with chemical reactions, nuclear reactions are always balanced. When a nuclear reaction occurs, the total mass (number) and the total charge remain unchanged.
    • 5.4: Rates of Radioactive Decay
      Unstable nuclei undergo spontaneous radioactive decay. The most common types of radioactivity are α decay, β decay, γ emission, positron emission, and electron capture. Nuclear reactions also often involve γ rays, and some nuclei decay by electron capture. Each of these modes of decay leads to the formation of a new stable nuclei sometimes via multiple decays before ending in a stable isotope. All nuclear decay processes follow first-order kinetics and each radioisotope has its own half-life.
    • 5.5: Stability of the Atomic Nucleus
      The energy changes in nuclear reactions are enormous compared with those of even the most energetic chemical reactions. In fact, the energy changes in a typical nuclear reaction are so large that they result in a measurable change of mass. In this section, we describe the relationship between mass and energy in nuclear reactions and show how the seemingly small changes in mass that accompany nuclear reactions result in the release of enormous amounts of energy.
    • 5.6: The Origin of the Elements
      The relative abundances of the elements in the known universe vary by more than 12 orders of magnitude. In this section, we explain why 1H and 2He together account for at least 99% of all the atoms in the known universe. We also describe the nuclear reactions that take place in stars, which transform one nucleus into another and create all the naturally occurring elements.
    • 5.7: Transmutation of the Elements
      Although the conversion of one element to another is the basis of natural radioactive decay, it is also possible to convert one element to another experimentally. The conversion of one element to another is the process of transmutation.
    • 5.8: Nuclear Fission
      Many heavier elements with smaller binding energies per nucleon can decompose into more stable elements that have intermediate mass numbers and larger binding energies per nucleon. Sometimes neutrons are also produced. This decomposition is called fission, the breaking of a large nucleus into smaller pieces. The breaking is rather random with the formation of a large number of different products. Fission usually does not occur naturally, but is induced by bombardment with neutrons.
    • 5.9: Nuclear Fusion
      The process of converting very light nuclei into heavier nuclei is also accompanied by the conversion of mass into large amounts of energy, a process called fusion. The principal source of energy in the sun is a net fusion reaction in which four hydrogen nuclei fuse and produce one helium nucleus and two positrons. This is a net reaction of a more complicated series of events.
    • 5.E: Nuclear Chemistry (Exercises)
      These are homework exercises to accompany the Textmap created for "Chemistry: The Central Science" by Brown et al.